| CASE INTRO |
On November 18, 2019, a group of Black Mississippians who are eligible to serve on juries filed a class action lawsuit against Doug Evans, the District Attorney in the Fifth Circuit Court District of Mississippi, and his office.
According to an American Public Media Reports (APM Reports) analysis, over the course of his tenure, Evans’ office has struck Black jurors 4.4 times more frequently than white jurors during jury selection in criminal trials. When controlling for race-neutral factors which might influence a strike, the rate is even more alarming – prospective Black jurors were 6.7 times more likely to be struck than white jurors.
The plaintiffs – represented by the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc. (LDF) and the Roderick and Solange MacArthur Justice Center – are asking a federal district court to stop the DA’s office from abusing its power to exclude Black jurors from criminal juries.
Scroll down and click through the resources below to learn more about jury discrimination and what we are doing –and what you can do– to stop it.
| VIDEO |
Attala County, Mississippi Branch of the NAACP v. Doug Evans – A Federal Class Action Lawsuit
| WHAT'S AT STAKE |
JURY SERVICE AND CITIZENSHIP
American citizens have two main opportunities to participate in their democracy: voting and jury service. Just as voting ensures that elected officials represent the will of the people, jury service does the same thing for the judicial branch. The jury protects individuals from being convicted of crimes by corrupt or biased government officials because a person cannot be convicted and sentenced unless a jury of their peers agrees. Crucially, the jury protects the accused from unfairness. It also legitimizes the verdict to the community because the community — through the jury — has signed off on it. For this reason, jury service is a defining part of what it means to be an American citizen.
DISCRIMINATION BY PROSECUTORS
Since 1875, it has been illegal to discriminate against potential jurors because of their race. But state and local officials have simply ignored the law or found ways to covertly discriminate. As a result, Black prospective jurors have faced discrimination throughout American history. In 2019, DA’s are responsible for most of that discrimination. They discriminate using what are called peremptory challenges —“challenges” or “strikes” that let them remove a certain number of people from the jury pool without giving any reason. The Supreme Court has made clear that it is unconstitutional to strike potential jurors because of their race, but prosecutors across the country continue to do so at an alarming rate.
WHY JURY DISCRIMINATION MATTERS
When a DA strikes a person from the jury because of their race, the DA is violating the constitutional rights of both the juror who is removed and the defendant who is on trial. In effect, the DA is saying that the prospective juror is a second-class citizen who cannot be trusted with the responsibilities of full citizenship. This type of discrimination doesn’t just hurt the juror and the accused. It lets the community know that they cannot trust the legal system because they have been denied a fair voice on the jury. It also shows the community that even the people who are supposed to enforce the law will violate the Constitution when they think it helps them get a conviction. Academic studies show that jury discrimination causes other harms too. Juries that are less diverse reach verdicts that are less accurate. And all-white juries are both more likely to convict Black defendants and less likely to convict white defendants than a more diverse jury.
DISCRIMINATORY STRIKES: BEYOND MISSISSIPPI
Unfortunately, the practice of excluding otherwise eligible Black citizens from jury service because of their race is not unique to District Attorney Doug Evans’ office or to Mississippi. The exclusion of Black jurors because of their race has been a longstanding, pervasive feature of jury selection in America.
| A GLANCE AT THE DATA |
A North Carolina study of a statewide database of strikes found that “prosecutors struck 52.6% (636/1,208) of eligible Black jury pool members, compared to only 25.7% (1,592/6,185) of all other eligible members.”(1) Black prospective jurors were therefore struck at a rate of just over two times the rate of white jurors.
(1) Table 1: Catherine M. Grosso and Barbara O’Brien, A Stubborn Legacy: The Overwhelming Importance of Race in Jury Selection in 173 Post-Batson North Carolina Capital Trials, 97 Iowa L. Rev. 1531, 1548 (2012).
An examination of Caddo Parish, Louisiana found that Black jurors were struck at a rate three times that of white jurors. (To find out more, visit www.blackstrikes.com).
In response, a group of Black Caddo Parish citizens – represented by the MacArthur Justice Center – sued the District Attorney in Caddo Parish. That case is still pending.
(Left Table): www.blackstrikes.com
Neither prosecutors nor courts are required to keep, maintain, or assess information on jury strikes. This means it can be difficult to determine who was struck, who did the striking, and the demographic information of the excluded jurors. But the information that is available is public and, in many circumstances, accessible at your local Circuit Clerk office.
| CASE STUDY |
Curtis Flowers v. Mississippi
Attala County NAACP v. Evans was filed on the heels of Flowers v. Mississippi, a U.S. Supreme Court case concerning District Attorney Doug Evans’ efforts to exclude Black people from jury service in the case of Curtis Flowers, a Black man who was sentenced to death by a nearly all-white jury.
In June 2019, the Supreme Court reversed Mr. Flowers’ 2010 conviction and death sentence, declaring, “Equal justice under law requires a criminal trial free of racial discrimination in the jury selection process.”
Prior to the Supreme Court case, Curtis Flowers faced six trials for the same charge. Each of these trials involved troubling racial overtones and resulted in either hung juries or convictions that were reversed because of prosecutorial misconduct. Over the course of these six trials, Doug Evans — the lead prosecutor in Mr. Flowers’ trials — removed 41 of 43 possible Black jurors and struck Black jurors 20 times more frequently than their white counterparts. These jury strikes violated not only Mr. Flowers’ rights as the accused, but also the fundamental rights of each individual Black juror who was excluded from jury service because of their race.
The Legal Defense Fund filed an amicus brief in the case, detailing the District Attorney’s long, disturbing history of denying Black people the right to serve on a fair jury.
The Roderick and Solange MacArthur Justice Center similarly filed an amicus brief condemning racially discriminatory jury selection.
| HOW YOU CAN HELP |
Do you know who your DA is?
Do you know who is running for DA in your area?
Do you know what they are doing to end discriminatory jury strikes?
HERE'S WHAT YOU CAN DO:
Contact your DA. Let them know that you care about ending jury discrimination and ask what they are doing to stop it.
Tell your local DA to track their strikes by race to make sure their office is not discriminating.
Follow your local DA elections and let DA candidates know you want them to take concrete action to end jury discrimination.
Call on your courts to record data Call for rules like the one adopted by the Washington Supreme Court to limit jury discrimination.
| WHAT DISTRICT ATTORNEYS CAN DO TO ELIMINATE RACIAL BIAS IN JURY DISCRIMINATION |
District Attorneys play a critical role in shaping the future of jury selection. We encoruage DAs committed to eliminating the use of racially discriminatory strikes to adopt measures like the ones below in their offices.
A. POLICY CHANGES
The District Attorney will implement specific, written policies to eliminate the use of race as a factor in selecting criminal trial juries, including:
1. Announcement of a “no tolerance of racism” approach to racial discrimination in jury selection: any trial prosecutor who supervisors determine is using peremptory challenges to exclude potential jurors on the basis of their race shall be terminated from employment with this office. No exceptions.
2. All trial prosecutors shall state the specific reasons for the exercise of each peremptory challenge on the trial record, whether or not required to do so by the Court.
3. No trial prosecutor shall use non-verifiable criteria as the sole reason for exercising peremptory challenges (including, but not limited to, “demeanor” based reasons), in recognition of the ease with which such reasons can serve as pretexts for racial discrimination.
4. All trial prosecutors shall question potential jurors during voir dire about any specific concerns related to the juror’s views or potential biases before such matters can be used as the basis of a peremptory challenge.
The District Attorney’s Office will provide training to all attorneys and investigators of the office to prevent the use of peremptory challenges to discriminate against qualified African-American jurors in future criminal jury trials. Specifically, prosecutors will be trained about how to identify the implicit and explicit intrusion of improper racial considerations into their discretionary decision-making.
C. RECORD KEEPING
The District Attorney’s Office will maintain the following records which, regardless of state law, will be classified as public records available for copying upon request by a member of the public.
1. Trial records: in each case tried to verdict, the following data will be recorded:
a) The race and gender of each potential juror for that trial;
b) The race and gender of the defendant(s);
c) The race and gender of any victim and/or complaining witness;
d) The jury selection outcome for each juror (selected for the jury, selected as an alternate, removed for cause based on hardship, removed for cause based on bias, removed for cause based on another specified reason, state strike, defense strike);
e) The stated reason for each peremptory challenge against any juror;
f) Any Batson challenges, who raised them, and whether they were successful or unsuccessful.
2. Individual prosecutor records: the District Attorney’s Office will aggregate the strike rates for each individual prosecutor and the Office on a periodic basis.
A supervisor in the District Attorney’s Office will review the strike pattern and expressed reasons for prosecutors after trials in order to supervise compliance with the “no tolerance of racism” policy and to provide further education and training for staff who are making suspect decisions.
| ABOUT US |
NAACP Legal Defense Fund
The NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc. is America’s premier legal organization fighting for racial justice. Through litigation, advocacy, and public education, LDF seeks structural changes to expand democracy, eliminate disparities, and achieve racial justice in a society that fulfills the promise of equality for all Americans. LDF also defends the gains and protections won over the past 75 years of civil rights struggle and works to improve the quality and diversity of judicial and executive appointments.
MacArthur Justice Center
For over 30 years, the Roderick & Solange MacArthur Justice Center has fought cases to right individuals wrongs, confront racial and social inequality and demand real reform. Our belief remains the same – that those who are most vulnerable and who are therefore at risk of being ground up in the gears of the criminal justice system will always need an advocate to right the individual wrongs they have suffered and to address and attack the underlying systemic injustices.